When I first heard Jeff Goldblum ask “RuPaul Drag Race” contestant Jackie Cox about the seeming contradictions between being Muslim and LGBT, I didn’t think much of it, and went right back to staring at Instagram. As somebody whose interpretation of the Muslim world has been filtered through news packages depicting war-town cities and news reports about oppressive regimes, I thought it was an appropriate question to pose. Homosexuality is outlawed in 70 countries, including every majority Muslim nation in the Middle East. Cox also frequently talks about her Iranian heritage, making the issue pertinent to her persona.
But I was wrong.
Following Cox’s runway performance, in which she wore a stunning blue starry hijab for the episode’s “Stars and Stripes” theme, Goldblum posed the inquiry: “Is there something in this religion that is anti-homosexuality and anti-woman? Does that complicate the issue? I’m just raising it and thinking out loud and maybe being stupid.”
Over the past several days, many LGBT Muslim journalists have written about why Goldblum’s musings were ignorant, including queer writer Samer Hassan, who penned the op-ed, “Hey Jeff Goldblum, What You Said On ‘Rupaul’s Drag Race’ Is Really Islamophobic.” I spoke with Hassan Tuesday on a special edition of my podcast about the problem with Goldblum’s question, and why it further perpetuates negative stereotypes surrounding LGBT Muslims.
He changed my mind.
“This happens a lot — the fact that Islam is always given this double standard in regards to American society,” he said. “What I wrote about in my op-ed was, we’re sick of it. We’re sick of being regarded as a religion that does not appreciate women — that hates women — that hates the LGBT community. I’m here to say, that’s simply incorrect. It is not true. I exist. I am a Muslim gay man, and I am out and proud, and I am accepted. I know many, many others who are in the same community who are thinking the same thing. We’re part of this supposedly non-existent demographic that needs to be liberated. It’s incorrect.”
Hassan accurately points out there are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, most of whom live freely in democratic nations. While the Middle East is heavily Muslim, it is only home to 20 percent of the world’s population. As Hassan also mentions, several majority Muslim nations have also had female heads of state, including Pakistan. The U.S., of course, has not.
Most extremist sects of Abrahamic Religions demonize LGBT people. But Hassan says only Muslims are asked to answer for the radical fringes of their communities.
“I think posing the question in the first place is where the challenge lies,” he said. “To be critical of a religion — I completely agree. You should be critical of everything. I am critical of everything on this planet. But there’s a difference between being critical and outright ignorant and somewhat hostile. You don’t say this after a wonderful performance by an amazing drag queen who’s a practicing Christian. You don’t say, ‘Oh, that was great, but what about that one sect of Christianity that despises homosexuals and lesbians and thinks transgender individuals are an abomination? But that was great, though.’ For me, it’s like, ‘What?’ That has nothing to do with it.’ Here is a proud Muslim drag queen performing in front of the world saying, ‘Look, here we are. We exist. We are powerful, and we are committed to changing these stereotypes of Muslims in America. And the first thing they say to her after an amazing performance was, ‘Isn’t this kind of problematic,’ or, ‘Doesn’t this complicate the issue,’ or, ‘They’re not very compatible with each other, right?’ No. That’s the problem.”
In Western media, the Muslim world is largely represented through our military conflicts in the Middle East, disproportionately highlighting one small cluster of the community. It’s also worth mentioning those country’s autocratic governments, and not the people, subject the population to oppressive and draconian laws. Perhaps the most brutal regime is Saudi Arabia’s, which buys at least $100 billion in military equipment annually from the U.S.
In order to properly discuss the place of LGBT people in the Muslim world, Hassan says it’s necessary to look inward at ourselves, and the role we play in perpetuating oppression inside and outside of our borders.
“It’s like they look at us like a walking contradiction, and that’s what I have a problem with: ‘How can you be gay and Muslim? Don’t they kill you people?’ No! That’s the problem,’” Hassan said. “The vast majority are living wonderfully and thriving and are powerful and influential. It’s those small incidents that make the media notice. But we have to also look towards our own borders. We have so many transgender individuals being murdered in this country. Are we antiquating that with Christianity?”
Click here to check out this week’s edition of “The Sports Kiki Podcast”. You can also subscribe to the show on Apple’s Podcast page as well as on Google Podcasts, and wherever you’ll find Outsports podcasts.